Tears of Joy, Tears of Sorrow: My Son Shares His Recovery Story While I Listen To Others’ Tragic Outcomes

(10-1-19) As soon as I entered the psych ward, the memories came. Painful memories of my adult son, Kevin, hospitalized five times because of his unchecked bipolar disorder.

Only this time, the dread of him being inside a hospital quickly dissipated. Replaced by pride and admiration.

Kevin had been invited onto this closed ward last week by the University of Alabama Center for Psychiatric Medicine in Birmingham, Alabama, to share his recovery story with fifty patients receiving treatment there.

Standing before them, he spoke unscripted from his heart, recalling how he had been arrested and shot twice by the police with a taser. How for five years, he’d been caught in a self-destructive psychotic revolving door. How he’d eventually accepted that he had a serious mental illness and with the help of a compassionate case manager named Cyndi Anderson, how he’d started on his journey to recovery.  Today, he works full-time as a peer specialist, lives independently, and is earning a Master’s Degree in social work.

He finished his speech by singing a rap song called In My Feelings that he’d composed and will be released Friday. A part of its second verse:

Remember when nobody cared
now its like an answered prayer
used to push the shopping cart in the parking lot that was my job
I came up from the group home
remember when I was all alone
banks didn’t want to give me a loan
no girlfriend to call my phone
where were you when I needed help?


Patients reacted by rising spontaneously from their chairs to sing along and dance to the beat as he performed. It was electrifying. A tear formed in my eyes.

Less than 24 hours later, more tears – but for an opposite reason.

Kevin had returned home from Alabama while I had traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to speak at a National Alliance on Mental Illness state convention. Sitting in a Opryland hotel ballroom, I was listening to a NAMI mother recount how her adult son had become seriously mentally ill, been homeless, been arrested, and ultimately had been wounded during an encounter with the police. It was his attempt at ‘suicide by cop.’

October is mental health month and I will be criss-crossing our nation speaking about Kevin, my family’s struggles and the need for reforming our mental health care system.

Sadly, I know from thirteen years of giving speeches, that I will be encountering mothers and fathers with much sadder stories than mine. [ I asked during a question-and-answer segment at the NAMI Tennessee convention how many attendees had someone in their family who had been arrested and incarcerated. A majority of hands shot up.]

I wrote CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, to expose the hurdles that kept me from helping Kevin and to explain why jails and prisons are inappropriate places for individuals with serious mental illnesses. I share Kevin’s recovery story in speeches to give others hope and remind listeners that with access to meaningful treatment, most people with mental illnesses can and will recover.

I am proud whenever Kevin and I can speak together. Because I believe the best way to combat stigma is by putting a human face on mental illnesses. And the best way to bring about change is by sharing our stories and  demanding justice.

While my presentations at the University of Alabama and the Tennessee NAMI state convention were markedly different, there was one part of both speeches that was identical, From my speeches:


Who will demand that we stop locking up our loved ones with serious mental illnesses when their only real crime is that they got sick?

Who will demand that people with serious mental illnesses will have access to affordable housing, jobs, clubhouses, readily available treatment and not be stigmatized?

Who will demand that insurance companies and our health care system treat broken minds the same way they treat broken bodies?

Who will insist that we not only find better medications for treating the symptoms of these cruel illnesses but also for finding a cure?

Who will fight for the homeless, psychotic man sleeping on our streets, the teen cutting herself, the college student tortured by voices, the woman on the edge of a bridge about to jump?

Will you?

Make your voice heard! Tell your stories!


My son sharing his story through his music. A sample from recent This Is My Brave show.

[Pete’s October speaking schedule. Most open to public.]

October 4th, Palm Springs, California, special training event for county judges. Private.

October 9th,  Seattle, Washington, Seattle Town Hall, information at Post Prison Education Program. Public welcome!

October 12, Moore County, North Carolina, information at NAMI Moore County, public welcome!

October 15, Ann Arbor, Michigan, information at Prechter Lecture, University of Michigan Depression Center, public welcome!

October 18, Fairfax, Virginia, information at 2019 Pathways to Wellness Conference, with Kevin Earley, public welcome.

October 23-25. Saskatoon, Canada, information at Custody and Care Conference, University of Saskatchewan

October 29th, Framingham, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance retreat. Closed to public.

October 31, Akron, Ohio, information at Akron Roundtable.




About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.